TBR Chronicles #10

 

As the end of the year swiftly approaches, it’s got me thinking about my reading challenge and whether or not I’m going to manage to complete it in time.  For this reason, I went over the shorter novels on my TBR list in the hopes of knocking out a few novellas to get my numbers up.  I know that many of you have had no problem whatsoever reading far beyond your reading goals, congratulations to you!  If any of you, like me, are missing those last few books then I recommend a few novellas!

Here are a few of the short novels I have earmarked for reading:

The Fall by Albert Camus

The Fall

I picked this one because many readers say that it is in fact The Fall that is Camus’ best novel and not The Stranger so I’m intrigued.  At 92 pages you’ll have no problems finishing this one quickly.

“Jean-Baptiste Clamence is a soul in turmoil. Over several drunken nights he regales a chance acquaintance with his story. From this successful former lawyer and seemingly model citizen a compelling, self-loathing catalogue of guilt, hypocrisy and alienation pours forth. “The Fall” (1956) is a brilliant portrayal of a man who has glimpsed the hollowness of his existence. But beyond depicting one man’s disillusionment, Camus’s novel exposes the universal human condition and its absurdities – and our innocence that, once lost, can never be recaptured.” (GoodReads)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

I’ve always wanted to read this classic and at 96 pages there’s no reason not to.

“Dr Jekyll has discovered the ultimate drug. A chemical that can turn him into something else. Suddenly, he can unleash his deepest cruelties in the guise of the sinister Hyde. Transforming himself at will, he roams the streets of fog-bound London as his monstrous alter-ego.” (GoodReads)

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha

This is another classic I’ve been meaning to get to.  This one is 160 pages but still doable if you’re short on time.

“In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life—the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.” (GoodReads)

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Invisible Cities

This sounds a fantastic read and at 165 pages you’ll be through it in no time.

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” — from Invisible Cities

In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo — Mongol emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts his host with stories of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. As Marco Polo unspools his tales, the emperor detects these fantastic places are more than they appear.”  (GoodReads)

Identity by Milan Kundera

Identity

This book is new to my TBR and the concept of identity is interesting to me so at only 168 pages it seems worth it to give it a go.

“There are situations in which we fail for a moment to recognize the person we are with, in which the identity of the other is erased while we simultaneously doubt our own. This also happens with couples–indeed, above all with couples, because lovers fear more than anything else “losing sight” of the loved one.  With stunning artfulness in expanding and playing variations on the meaningful moment, Milan Kundera has made this situation–and the vague sense of panic it inspires–the very fabric of his new novel. Here brevity goes hand in hand with intensity, and a moment of bewilderment marks the start of a labyrinthine journey during which the reader repeatedly crosses the border between the real and the unreal, between what occurs in the world outside and what the mind creates in its solitude.  Of all contemporary writers, only Kundera can transform such a hidden and disconcerting perception into the material for a novel, one of his finest, most painful, and most enlightening. Which, surprisingly, turns out to be a love story.” (GoodReads)

 

Have you read any of these already?  If so, share your thoughts with us.

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The Makings of a Literature Classic

Many of us have a few classic books on our TBR lists.  Some of us are taking on reading challenges to get really stuck into the classics.  The classics are the creme of the crop, the monuments of literature that weather the passing of time, and so they are a goal toward which many a reader aspires.  But what really defines a classic?  Just what is it that makes a classic a classic?  I, too, have goals of getting through a few classics but at the same time I have, what is to me, an equally important goal of only reading what I enjoy reading.  Life’s too short to waste on books I don’t find personally satisfying.

I have read a number of books that really impacted me, left me thinking about the world or myself, or opened my eyes to something in life.  Some of these are classics and some are not classified as mainstream classics.  But does that mean that they can’t be classics to me?  I went in search of answers and what I found confirmed my own hunches; there are criteria for what constitutes a classic but there is great debate around this and what constitutes a classic is largely subjective.  why read the classics italo calvino

The best explanation of defining classics I found with which I agreed was this quote from the Brain Picking’s post What Makes a Classic? Lessons from the Chinese Book of Changes on Richard J. Smith’s The “I Ching”: A Biography wherein a classic is defined:

“First, the work must focus on matters of great importance, identifying fundamental human problems and providing some sort of guidance for dealing with them. Second, it must address these fundamental issues in ‘beautiful, moving, and memorable ways,’ with ‘stimulating and inviting images.’ Third, it must be complex, nuanced, comprehensive, and profound, requiring careful and repeated study in order to yield its deepest secrets and greatest wisdom. One might add that precisely because of these characteristics, a classic has great staying power across both time and space.”

However, readers also play an important role in what gets to be called a classic since we are the ones buying books.  This interesting article in the Salon What Makes A Book A Classic by Laura Miller points to that fact that what is deemed a classic is extremely subjective and it is in bookshops where we see the conundrum of categorising which books go where.  Essentially books are shelved where they believe readers will go looking for them and this must shift the definition of the classic away from the scholarly toward the reader.  As the Salon article points out for example; JRR Tolkein’s books are classics to his fans and not to others.  Times change, readers change, and how we view books changes.

What makes a classic is then an ever-changing mythical beast.  I think what constitutes a classic is a less important question than why read the classics.  So why read the classics?  For that answer seek Italo Calvino’s book Why Read the Classics.  In this book Calvino offers 14 definitions of what he thinks makes a classic, which you can read in this Brain Pickings post, my favourite of the definitions and my answer to why I want to read the classics is no. 11:

“‘Your classic is a book to which you cannot remain indifferent, and which helps you define yourself in relation or even in opposition to it.”

A few years ago a came across an extract on the internet from a letter that Franz Kafka is said to have written to his schoolmate Oskar Pollak in 1904 which I think is also the definition of a classic.  Kafka writes that we should only read the kinds of books he describes in this extract but I would not be so limiting…different times call for different kinds of books.  That said, it does seem to fall in line with what I would hope a ‘classic’ would evoke in me:

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us.  If the book we are reading does not wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?  So that it will make us happy, as you write? […] A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.  That is my belief.”

If it moves you, speaks to you, calls to be reread, then it is a classic to you.  What books are classics to you?  What are your thoughts on the criteria for what constitutes a classic?  Should the books that were classified as classics in the past continue to be classified as such in the future or can we (should we) review this status?

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TBR Chronicles #08

This month Margaret Atwood’s new book, The Heart Goes Last, was published.  I really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale and have a lot of her other books on my The Heart Goes LastTBR so it just makes sense that her latest offering goes on the list.

Another new release coming next month is David Mitchell’s Slade HouseSlade House is the novel which follows the highly The Bone Clocksacclaimed The Bone Clocks which I have also earmarked for reading.  I have quite a few David Mitchell books on my TBR too so these two new releases were not only exciting but also a kick in the rear to get said rear into gear and get through some of these great books.

This month I added a John Steinbeck book to my TBR.  The truth is that Slade Housedespite being aware of his books’ status as classics of literature I have never really found myself all that interested.  Probably because Grapes of Wrath is the one everyone raves about and it doesn’t seem to pique my interest.  East of Eden, however, I am now very interested in because Steinbeck is said to have spoken of East of Eden with pride:East of Eden

“It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years.” He further claimed, “I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.” (Read the article)

The final addition to my TBR list this month comes from Italo Calvino but not in the form of his fiction.  Why Read the Classics?Calvino’s Why Read The Classics came to my attention as I have been working on creating my own list of novels to include in Lilolia’s Friday Book Feature post series which used to follow some popular book lists.  I read an article on Brain Pickings with excerpts from this book about how to classify classics and there were some points I agreed with and so I was convinced to read this book.

 

Have you read any of these?  I’d love to hear what you thought.